In the span of just over five months since breaking Miesha Tate’s arm at a Strikeforce event in early March, female MMA fighter Ronda Rousey has gone from a virtual unknown outside MMA circle into a national, breakout star for the sport. The armbar victory by Rousey became a viral internet sensation, creating a perfect storm of publicity for her and the sport. Rousey, who’ll be defending her Strikeforce Bantamweight Championship against former champion Sarah Kaufman Saturday on Showtime, has since been featured on magazine covers (most notably ESPN The Magazine’s Body issue) and has her own 24/7-style reality show leading up to the fight.
While Rousey’s publicity and stardom has been great for the sport, there is unquestionably some jealousy from veteran fighters, many of whom have been in MMA for years with little to no recognition. It’s the same argument heard years ago when Gina Carano was making a name for herself before becoming a crossover star. Sex will always sell and when a female fighter is attractive, it’s natural that she’ll get additional attention but this overshadows that the largest part of Rousey’s rise to stardom is the dominance she showed when beating Tate. The video of the armbar went viral (the official showtime version has over a million views on YouTube) and had the internet talking for days. If it had been an average victory by decision, those magazine covers and press junkets would in all likelihood not have happened for Rousey. This is not an Anna Kournikova situation, as Rousey has proven she’s got the real fight goods, not only in MMA, but also during her Olympic medal winning Judo career.
Much of the future of women’s MMA, frankly, will hinge on Rousey’s continued success and ultimately the ability to match her up with new rivals. A solid win streak as champion will solidify the Rousey “brand” and allow other fighter’s to gain exposure by playing off of her, in much the same way Cris Cyborg became famous through her victory over Carano. Continued success by Rousey could, in fact, open the doors for a women’s division in the UFC in the long-term. Dana White has hinted as much at a recent press conference but in all likelihood Strikeforce will remain the center of female MMA for the time being. Strikeforce’s contract with Showtime was extended until 2014 last December and the women’s division will likely become the biggest drawing card for the UFC-owned organization. A fighter and brand like Rousey can be a star-builder for the many young female fighters coming up.
This weekend’s matchup should be a tremendous fight with the edge going to Rousey. Rousey is currently undefeated in MMA at 5-0 and Kaufman is a strong 15-1, with her only blemish occuring in 2010 when she lost the Strikeforce title to Dutch fighter Marlos Coenen. Expect Rousey to go for some early throws using her Judo skills while Kaufman will try to keep it standing up. Kaufman isn’t a novice on the ground, possessing a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt, but Rousey’s effectiveness at getting submissions and utilizing her Judo to put her in advantageous positions is something Kaufman will likely be wary of.
Assuming Rousey gets past Kaufman, the immediate attention goes to a potential fight with former champion Cris Cyborg. Cyborg’s one-year suspension for performance enhancing drugs will expire in January and she is also currently undefeated in Strikeforce, even though her most recent TKO was turned into a no contest after the positive drug test. Although Cyborg would likely fight a tuneup fight after returning, a Cyborg-Rousey match-up makes a lot of sense. The only potential obstacle to the fight would be that Cyborg fights as a featherweight while Rousey fights at 10 pounds less as a bantamweight. Rousey has a solid frame though, and adding weight shouldn’t be an issue with the potential money and headlines involved.
The future of women’s MMA is bright, but it will need the presence of crossover personalities like Ronda Rousey to continue its ascent.
Author Bio: Rick Friedman is a part-time sports blogger and is definitely a fan of UFC fights. He recommends FansEdge for awesome MMA-UFC apparel for many of today’s top MMA stars.